PAVAILION, N.Y. (WIVB) – A new lawsuit filed against the Diocese of Buffalo is raising questions about the name of a parish hall at a church in Genesee County.
That hall is named after the priest who is accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit filed by a name named Wayne Bortle.
“I think about what happened every single day,” Bortle told reporters Thursday.
The lawsuit is one of more than 100 that have been filed against the Catholic diocese since August 14th, the day the Child Victims Act went into effect. That state law opened up a one year look-back window for victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits against their abusers, even if the claim was previously time-barred by statute of limitations.
Bortle claims he was abused by Rev. Robert Conlin in 1980, when Conlin served at St. Mary’s Church in Pavilion. Bortle was 15 years old at the time. The suit claims Conlin gained Bortle’s trust by inviting him to play basketball and play games in the rectory, taking him to high school sporting events, and inviting him to attend mass.
All of that led up to the alleged abuse.
“The one image that always stands out in my head is trying to get out of that house and I could just see this bolt lock,” Bortle recalled.
Conlin’s name is on the diocese’s list of priests who have had substantiated claims of abuse made against them. Bortle and his attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, claim it is also on the parish hall at St. Mary’s: Conlin Hall. Bortle wants it renamed.
“They’re the ones that put him on that list as a credible pedophile,” Bortle said. “For them then to ignore (that) and hold this person up in this hall, you can use every analogy that you want. It’s like putting the knife in, twisting it, and spitting on my face.”
Garabedian read directly from the parish’s bulletin: “There will be a coffee hour after the 8 a.m. mass on Sunday, September 1st at Conlin Hall. All are welcome!!”
“What kind of message does that send?” Garabedian commented. “All are welcome to a hall named after a pedophile priest?”
A diocesan spokesperson said the decision to remove the name would have to be made by the parish.
“At this time, the approach to names on buildings, photographs of priests with substantiated claims of abuse, is a decision made at the parish level,” the spokesperson said. “A pastor and his advisors (trustees, pastoral council, etc.) who determine the name is a detriment to the community, to the survivors of abuse (or their family), and especially if the abuse occurred at that parish, can remove the name. If they determine it is important to the parish’s history – then a name on a building could remain. Again, at this time Bishop (Richard) Malone has not given a diocesan-wide directive. He respects and supports the decision made by the local parish community.”
In reference to the lawsuit filed by Bortle, she replied with the same prepared statement the diocese has released in response to other Child Victims Act lawsuits.
“The litigation process has begun,” the statement says, “and the Diocese respects that process and will respond accordingly. All new allegations received will be examined and investigated in accordance with the Charter for the Protection of Children and the Policies of the Diocese of Buffalo and appropriate action will be taken as required.”
Rev. Conlin died in 1997.